What the New York Yankees have done with the recent Javier Vazquez signing is strengthen their bullpen to the point that it resembles the one they had during their run in the late 1990’s.
Effectively the Yankees have five front line starters that can hang with any in the American League East.
From CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, the newly acquired Javier Vazquez, and Phil Hughes, a weak link is seemingly missing.
Missing from the rotation is reliever, turned starter, Joba Chamberlain.
The former Nebraska Cornhusker began turning heads in the Yankees minor league system where he sped through three classes in one calendar season, going 9-2 in 88.1 innings, giving up a minuscule 65 hits, while totaling 135 strikeouts. That adds up to 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings.
The question in the Yankee universe is whether Chamberlain is a setup man or a starter?
Chamberlain has seen the most success as a reliever, though his transition into being a starter was not a smooth one. However, it did show his versatility and resilience.
In the end, Chamberlain and the Yankees future success depends on his skills in the later innings, setting the table for Mariano Rivera to shut the door.
Fangraphs once again is an excellent source of reference to establish a starting and ending point to show that Chamberlain’s superior role is in the Yankee bullpen.
When he arrived on the scene in 2007 for the Yankees playoff run, his stats were like something out of a video game; 0.38 ERA, 12 hits in 24 innings, and allowed one earned run, while racking up 34 strikeouts.
His 12.75 K/9 in 2007 would rank third all-time in single season rankings if he continued that torrid pace through a full season.
The 2008 season is when the experiment started, and Chamberlain’s season combined 12 starts to go along with 30 games as a reliever. 100 innings, 138 strikeouts, and a 2.60 ERA are all very good numbers for a pitcher with less than three years of professional experience.
Beneath the basic numbers, a downward trend was beginning, a tendency that continued in 2009, his first full season as a starter.
His K/9 innings dropped to 10.58, and in '09 dipped below 7.7, which is not terrible. Nevertheless, the concern lies in other areas. Chamberlain’s walks per nine innings increased two-fold, from 2.25 to 4.35, while his home runs per nine jumped nearly one per game, (0.38 to 1.20).
A telltale sign of the difficulties that Chamberlain faced last year was that his pitches were very hittable.
His Z-Contact%, which is defined as “the percentage of times a batter makes contact with the ball when swinging at pitches thrown inside the strike zone,” has ballooned almost 10 percent, to 90.6 percent, the highest in his career.
His velocity has also seen significant reduction since his rookie year. In 2007, his fastball topped out at 97.4 mph, while in 2009, we witnessed a five mph drop-off.
The 2010 season should be the year the real “Joba” returns. Javier Vazquez is a solid number four starter, coming off a career year in the pitcher friendly National League.
Phil Hughes, who himself, is making the transition from starter to reliever, looks to be returning to the rotation, thus, enabling Chamberlain to regain his rightful spot in the eighth inning slot.
Returning to the bullpen now gives the Yankees the late inning, one-two punch they have lacked since the Rivera, John Wetteland combination in 1995 and 1996. Chamberlain now has the opportunity to focus his intensity on getting three outs for a hold, not getting through the necessary five innings for a win.
This article can also be found on the GM's Perspective